'The future of PR is in harnessing an optimal mix of innovation and technology'

Abhilasha Padhy & Kiran Ray Chaudhury, Co-founders, 80 dB Communications spoke about changes in PR industry, mergers & acquisitions, future plans & more, in the last edition of ‘Rising India Series’

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jul 23, 2021 8:43 AM  | 7 min read
dB Communications

The Indian PR industry is at the cusp of transformation. This pivot, triggered by the pandemic, has been the breeding ground for many niche indigenous firms. These independent firms, however, faced by some temporary crises, have been performing well. These firms, along with providing niche services, also focus on nurturing young, agile talent that enters the industry. 

One such independent firm is 80dB Communications. Jointly founded by Kiran Ray Chaudhury and Abhilasha Padhy, the firm specializes in working with start-ups and technology companies. 80dB has grown steadily and today boasts of a roster of impressive brands and emerging businesses. Being profitable since its inception in 2015, the firm’s revenues have doubled in the last 3 years. Along with a good clientele list, 80 dB has enjoyed high client retention over the years acquired through references from existing clients, running multi-year engagements. 

80 dB also differentiates itself in its working style with clients, the expression of which is through senior-level attention and interaction and by getting involved with clients as partners. 

In the last edition of ‘Rising India Series’, we speak to Abhilasha Padhy and Kiran Ray Chaudhury, Co-founders, 80dB Communications on their experiences of running a niche, independent firm, challenges through the pandemic, changes in the industry, mergers and acquisitions, future plans and more.

Edited Excerpts:-

How has the PR landscape changed in the last 3 decades for Independent and Indigenous PR firms?

The PR industry has been ever-evolving and dynamic, with the pandemic having just accelerated it.

A couple of the trends have already been set into motion in the last few years and they will become more mature and become the norm going forward. 

  1. Integrated communication - PR is no longer just media, but communication of relevant narratives across stakeholders and platforms, thereby necessitates a deeper understanding of varied audiences 
  2. Greater acceptance of and play for home-grown and niche PR firms and indigenous networks
  3. Rise in importance of non-urban audiences, fuelling the need for regional specialists and adoption of alternate and emerging channels of communication to target specific audiences

Increasing spends on technology, and enhancing capabilities by adding social, digital, and data to their traditional offerings are necessary to ensure PR firms continue to support their clients’ emerging and evolving communication needs in a dynamic environment. In an era of information overload and fake news, a mix of technology and human endeavor will provide a solid foundation to sustain and strengthen clients’ reputations, irrespective of the size and lineage of PR firms. 

Innovation is the key, how is the industry evolving? How are PR agencies coping with it?

Disruption in PR, which has been brought about by technology, automation & social media, has propelled the need for innovation. While innovation has been a critical business imperative at all times in all industries, the pandemic has brought it front and center. 

There are just so many inspiring people to quote on innovation but this one resonates to help answer this. “Innovation is anything, but business as usual” (source, anonymous) describes the current environment aptly.

In order to respond to this change, PR agencies are looking at both strengthening existing capabilities in storytelling, account management, building processes for a better understanding of customers, cross-medium integrated engagement, research, learning and development while developing new capabilities in data, analytics, digital and social. 

The future of PR is in harnessing an optimal mix of innovation and technology while being agile to keep up with an increasingly dynamic environment in which brands operate and compete. 

In the last decades, we have witnessed major acquisitions and mergers between Indian and global agencies. How hard is it to stay Independent and expand?

A case can be made for both sides. It is not really a question of it being difficult to stay independent and expand, one can and there is enough evidence present to support that too. Besides, the scale of the business in terms of both footprint and resources is an attractive consideration for a global agency to acquire an Indian PR firm. 

The decision to be acquired really rests with the founder and her/his long-term vision. While there are upsides, such as brand (that could augur well for hiring), a global network and expertise, succession planning, there is much to be said for autonomy as well. Independent agencies can be better placed to weather the storm than some of their much larger competitors. A flexible structure, unencumbered by shareholder obligations makes it easy to make operational changes at short notice. There is definitely a lack of complication and this can help with quick decision making and restructuring, as is required in this dynamic environment. 

Regardless, no agency today can rest on its laurels or its affiliations, and given how fast the PR industry is changing, every agency would be required to be at the cutting edge of innovation, growth and learning.  

What is your view on the next 10 years of India as a global leader and an emerging market? How do you see the growth and engagement for the agencies?

India’s position and attractiveness on the global scale are well established. We will continue to be a growing and attractive economy, dependent of course on our government’s open policies. As one of the youngest nations on the planet, with a large, growing and affluent middle class that is expected to drive spending and a billion Internet users by then, the next ten years promise to be India’s decade.

The PR industry is actually at a pivotal point right now and the next ten are going to be defining for agencies. All PR firms would grow in stature as consultants as the complexity and mediums of communications become many and diverse. Newer mediums of communication will also emerge if the last ten years have been any indicator of the innovation in this space (audio platforms being an example).

PR firms will have the opportunity to widen their scope, as building trust with stakeholders becomes the order of the day for brands. The emphasis will be on brands needing to engage rather than promote, earn trust and develop conversations rather than delivering messages. These play directly to the strengths of PR practitioners.

Perhaps agencies delivering different functions may not exist in the avatar they do today. There would be greater fluidity in what PR offers, as engagement and reputation become central to the brand connect. PR agencies will also be required to grow the arsenal of their services operating across paid, owned and earned media. They would require to upskill and reskill too and add new capabilities in data and analytics, digital tools, creativity, research and consumer insights.

Some of the agencies have expanded and have offices globally. Do you see Indian agencies going abroad and acquiring local agencies?

With the maturing of the PR industry in India, this will definitely be on the horizon. As Indian companies, most likely led by the startups and their ambition to scale beyond Indian shores would require PR agencies to consider growing their network which could be through acquisitions in other markets.

Where do you see your firms after 5 years?

We are focused on building on our core strengths while transforming and preparing for the post-Covid-19 era of accelerated change and complexity. While 80dB is already an integrated communications firm, our core focus would include strengthening leadership, digital, strategic communications, anchored in a technology-savvy workforce.

We hope to be 5X in size, both in terms of resources and number of clients across practices that offer clients 360 degrees communications capabilities.

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